The challenges we professional educators are facing as we navigate serving children during a pandemic multiply by the hour. The media, the general public, parents, district office personnel, administrators, coaches, consultants — anyone who does not actually interface with children daily — all have an opinion. . . and a silver bullet. Turn off the chat box. (You already know how I feel about this.) This is the best videoconferencing platform of them all. Give them an incentive. . .
This “easy, quick fix” mentality is not surprising to veteran teachers. (I have been doing this for twenty-three years, y’all!) It is the snake oil education reform has always been made of — by folks who do not truly know children .
While I do not believe that you have to be in the virtual classroom every day to have a voice, you do have to show up. And when you do, you need to log on with a learning stance. All of your preconceived notions about what school “should” look like have to be thrown away. These are not “normal” times. Children are not learning under “normal” circumstances. And “normal” wasn’t working for the majority of children anyway.
For so many of our dear children, normalcy was erasure. When we expect “normal” — which has always been a harmful social construct rooted in all forms of bigotry — we fail to see the bold brilliance and beauty of the actual children who are sitting in front of us.
When we fail to see children, we cannot possibly make them visible in our curriculum, libraries, instructional practices, or our individual and collective class and school hearts. Under these circumstances, children become invisible. This isn’t a pandemic schooling problem, but it is now exacerbated to the point that not acknowledging it is willful ignorance.
This week I had to administer a computerized assessment to my students. While I question the rationale behind standardized testing under our current circumstances (I’m just lying. I question it under all circumstances!), there are some battles I choose not to fight because I know I will become weary to no avail. So, I showed my students how to log onto the assessment platform and told them they needed to find the quietest place in their homes (babysitter’s, tio’s, or abuela’s homes, or daycare centers) to work:
“I am at school right now and no one is our classroom but me, so it’s quiet. But if I were at home, I would definitely take my iPad to my bathroom and shut the door to take my assessment. My bedroom is noisy because I live by the train station. The rest of my house can be noisy because I live with a lot of people. When I have to record something, I really do go in the bathroom and shut the door.”
Not only was this an intentional move, it’s the absolute truth. Every PD video I did this past summer was filmed in front of the cabinetry of my bathroom. (You didn’t notice, did you? It was the fancy lighting I rigged up.) No one who participated in my professional development was harmed by this “abnormal” behavior, quite the contrary. It got the job done! I wanted my kids to know that it was okay to live in a noisy house and to find “out of the box” solutions for getting away from the jubilation when necessary.
One of my loves said, “I’m going to take my iPad to my grandma’s closet. It will be very quiet in there and I can focus.” She headed for her intended destination, sat down, and got to work. When she was finished, I looked at her assessment report and the results were phenomenal. She, in defiance of the “learning loss” narrative that is being perpetuated throughout US schools, was right where she needed to be to begin the challenging work of third grade. And. She. Took. The. Assessment. In. Her. Grandma’s. Closet.
There are so many things we need to release to truly meet children’s needs as we embark on this school-year-in-the-middle-of-a-pandemic. But I hope we will all quickly come to understand that perhaps the first thing we need to toss into the basura is “normal.” We are not returning to “normal.” We cannot.
The past several months have laid bare the inequities that exist in our society. Turning off chat boxes, perfect videoconference platforms, and incentives will not erase them and make education equitable. Only dismantling this system that does not live up to its calling will do that. And this begins with deliberately meeting children, their families, and their communities as they are, right where they are (and not trying to “save” or change them). Even if that’s in their Grandma’s closet.
And you can meet me in my bathroom if you want to continue this conversation. I’ve been working there since I was a child, to be honest. . .